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This review was written for publication in Swimming World magazine by Coach Michael Collins.

Coach Art Aungst has written a beautiful and informative day-by-day chronicle of his girls’ high school swim team (Orchard Park High School, near Buffalo NY) over the course of a full season. He shares revealing and touching anecdotes, specific sets and a rare level of detail on the methods that helped his team rise to an unprecedented level of success when he took a risk and changed the focus of his program from training-based to technique-based. The book’s 12 chapters correspond to the 12-week season of a high school team, with sample practices and sets given in each week. Aungst is always an educator first and he explains exactly what he hoped to achieve with each set and what his athletes learned from each.

Aungst, also a Total Immersion workshop director, coaches his team with a philosophy drawn from his experiences at TI workshops and summer camps. While TI is best known for teaching adults to swim more efficient freestyle at weekend workshops, as Aungst reveals, TI in fact has highly-evolved teaching progressions for all four strokes, as well as a philosophy of training which involves doing everything with purpose and mindfulness instead of sheer sweat. Art describes how he applied these principles to competitive high school athletes.

His reasoning for committing wholly to a TI program is that the brief high school season (about 50 total practice opportunities) is far too brief to get inexperienced athletes (many coming to swimming from other sports) "in shape" through traditional workouts. Instead, he has had success year-upon-year by using those 12 weeks to focus on winning races through superior technique. Aungst also describes a holistic approach to creating an environment for success, including meetings devoted to reaching team agreement on what excellence means, concrete exercises in being supportive of teammates, goal setting, and frequent underwater video analysis.

His relentless focus on positive reinforcement combined with individual responsibility to honor commitments gave his swimmers an environment where they did not feel threatened or pressured to perform. They were able to learn and develop their skills in a safe and supported place, both by the coach, and teammates. The results were remarkable. His team has consistently finished in the top 3 at the NY State Championships using mostly seasonal swimmers and just a handful of year-round swimmers. Since switching to the TI program in 1997, Aungst’s girls have not finished lower than 2nd in 18 State Championship relays, often setting records with softball and soccer players contributing crucial relay legs.

It would be easier to say who this book would not interest, than to choose those for whom it will be a valuable acquisition. Most obviously, it should be considered required reading by any high school coach, but also any coach who runs a short season team — including collegiate programs — and especially summer league programs. Any novice coach will accelerate their learning curve significantly by observing a seasoned and successful coach through a season-long journey. And experienced coaches will find countless ideas on how to freshen their approach and improve rapport with their athletes. Art not only tells how he made practice a place that swimmers enjoy coming to – he also explains learn how to teach essential skills like racing stroke rates. Finally, any swim parent will find this book enlightening on how sports experiences can be made to yield priceless life lessons.

Art has a rare quality of offering practical wisdom while being enormously entertaining – both funny and insightful at the same time. Never saying, "this is how you should do it," he simply shares what he has learned about becoming a more effective coach through understanding and education rather than coercion. He found that by giving more responsibility and opportunity for input to the athletes he has gained greater respect and acceptance from them.

I highly recommend this book!

Michael Collins is the Masters Coach for Irvine Novaquatics and the USMS
Coaches Committee Chairman.
Additionally he is the product reviewer for Sports Publications including
Swimming World, Swimming Technique & Swim Magazine.

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